Israel and Africa

Aiding Africa’s economic woes will help stem the tide of immigrants.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, S.Sudan pres Salva Kiir_311 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Netanyahu, S.Sudan pres Salva Kiir_311
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
This week’s visit to Israel by President Salva Kiir illustrates the growing relationship between the Jewish state and newly independent South Sudan.
According to President Shimon Peres, Kiir expressed admiration and support for Israel.
“I am very moved to be in Israel and to walk on the soil of the Promised Land, and with me are all South Sudanese people,” he said. “Without you, we would not have arisen. You struggled alongside us in order to allow the establishment of South Sudan and we are interested in learning from your experience.”
In response, Peres noted that Israel has had a long interest in the development and support of East African countries. “We know that you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle East and in advancing the values of equality, freedom and striving for peace and good neighborly relations,” he said.
The reality is that Kiir’s visit was kept under the radar and only lasted for 24 hours, an indication that more work needs to be done. He met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He also took time to visit Yad Vashem. Nevertheless, this important visit is one of Kiir’s first trips abroad since becoming president of an independent South Sudan in July.
The fact that he brought along his minister of foreign affairs, Nhial Deng Nhial, and minister of defense, Gen.
John Kong Nyoun, shows that he intended to do serious work while in the country.
The Israeli-South Sudan relationship goes back to the 1960s when Christians first rebelled against the Araband Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum.
A covert partnership, it began as part of Israel’s Periphery Policy of seeking alliances with non-Arab states in the region. In Africa, Israel cultivated relations with the newly independent nations, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Guided by then-foreign minister Golda Meir and her ministry’s Center for International Cooperation (Mashav), Israel sent advisers to help with agriculture, technical training, medicine and infrastructure projects.
Military training and aid was also a cornerstone of the policy.
In 1967, following the Six Day War and the Khartoum Resolution of the Arab League, the government flew South Sudanese rebel fighter Col. Joseph Lagu Yanga with 40 officers to Israel for military training. According to author Arop Madut-Arop, the third batch of trainees included John Garang de Mabior, who later became the famous South Sudanese rebel leader.
Israel’s relationships with many African states ended in 1973 when the Organization of African Unity, with extreme pressure from the Arab League, encouraged its members to severe ties with the country in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Jerusalem’s relations with Apartheid South Africa were also flagged as a reason for the deteriorating situation.
Since that setback, Israel has renewed relations with most of sub-Saharan Africa, but much work remains to be done. In the past several months the leaders of Uganda and Kenya have both come to Israel. In addition, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon flew to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, earlier this year. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu plans to visit several East African countries in the spring.
There are many important enterprising leaders in East Africa who represent a relatively new generation and are not tied to the old paradigms.
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Salva Kiir are all men whose lives were forged in the crucible of conflict against dictatorship, civil war and, in some cases, genocide. Countries such as South Sudan are in desperate need of development assistance, dealing with such fundamental issues such as road building; according to reports the country has only 100 kilometers of paved roads. Already Israeli entrepreneurs are considering ways to work with South Sudan.
While some Israelis see the Sudanese or other Africans only through the lens of the current refugee and migrant problem, the reality is that aiding Africa’s economic woes will help stem the tide of immigrants. The government and its various ministries should continue to support the growing relationship with East Africa and hope that things turn out better than they did the last time around.